Friday, December 24, 2010

And now, a special word from Jim Perry on the set of Card Sharks (1978)....

"WELL, that is all the time we have for now.

"Julie and Philip, I hope you will come back with us next time and finish the match. You're a couple of of delightful people. I must say one of, one of the joys of doing this show is meeting nice people like you!

"Hope you're having a very pleasant holiday season! Be very careful; have a most pleasant holiday all the way through, okay?

"Thank you for joining us; now, we'll see you next time on Card Sharks!

"'Bye, 'bye!"

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.

(P.S. - Merry Christmas to all readers of the blog, regular followers or otherwise! Thanks for your support!)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lady of the Law (1975), starring Shih Szu, Lo Lieh and Chang Pei-shan. Directed by Shen Chiang and Hsiao Yung.

Behind the scenes with Shih Szu.

DID an incident occur during the making of this film, prompting those at Shaw Brothers to bar their wuxia star Shih Szu from doing any more action-oriented leads not long after? It's a question yet to be answered satisfactorily in my mind.

The fansite Shaw Brothers Reloaded relates that sometime during '73-'74, "she heavily injured her right arm during a movie shoot", resulting in her being restricted "to play 'damsel-in-distress' roles only." Lady of the Law was put out in '75, but it's possible it was completed in '74 and its release temporarily delayed; this happened with Shaw pictures once in a while, so this fits into SBR's scenario. However, once I saw her in The Proud Youth, a '78 "sleeper" from Sun Chung, she was back doing a physical part, albeit a limited one in contrast to years past; based on this, any imposed ban wasn't a permanent one.

Regardless of how it came about, the notion is Szu was not happy with being treated like fragile china, as a result. Partly on advice from Ti Lung, she would find action on some independent productions (like the '79 Massacre Survivor) until her Shaw contract expired in '80; from there, she did TV work in Taiwan until she left the entertainment industry in '87. Considering how Fu Sheng's Shaw career got mucked up with his "Black September" on-set accidents, Szu was wise to get out while she was still in one piece. This fact alone makes Brother Fang relish all her movies now out on DVD that much more, including LotL, her "swansong" to Shaw wuxia films.

Aside from an interesting detour, the story is involved but fairly straightforward. Jiao Yaner (Lo Lieh) is out to avenge the death of his father, the chief of Yungtong Escorts after Chief Chen (Yang Chi-ching) of rival Wacheng Escorts had him killed in an elaborate scheme to become the main escort service (the ancestor to armored bank trucks) in the region, Chen skimming the coffers often while maintaining the facade of being an upright citizen. The younger Yaner only escaped death at the hands of Chen thanks to the intervention of sifu Madam White Brows (Ou-Yang Sha Fei) and her student, a little girl named Leng Rushuang. Chen was even brazen enough to go so far as to pledge to White Brows he'd raise the orphaned Jiao to manhood. Because he felt the boy was traumatized by his father's fate, he didn't think there would be any retaliation from him; he thought he was getting a servant who constantly feared for his life: a plum arrangement, in Chen's eyes.

In reality, several years after the passing of his father, Yaner has been only biding his time, learning the "Flaming Daggers" technique from a manual of his father's while he awaits the return of Rushuang, who promised to come see him again someday. One night, Chen's son (Dean Shek Tien) watches him practice in secret; he tells his father, and he's upset that despite deliberately not training Yaner in kung fu, he wound up doing it on his own. (White Brow suggested he shouldn't train the boy if he showed any bad temper; of course, Chen sneakily agreed to this.) Yaner is not as dumb as he looks, after all; moreover, he's dangerous in relation to all of Chen's illicit interests. Still, at the moment, he's more worried about someone else.

Rushuang (Shih Szu) is now known in the martial arts world as the "Lady of the Law", a vigilante who's partnered with the local authorities in the dispensing of justice. She is there in Ji County to help in the capture of a murdering rapist; as it turns out, the perpetrator is Chen's son. As they begin to feel the pressure of the investigation, Chen and his offspring (in an act that's so much "killing two birds with one stone") frame Yaner for the crimes, the son planting the body of his latest victim (the concubine of Valley Head, played by Chang Pei-shan) in Yaner's room.

Alas, once she sees where the corpse of the victim is, Rushuang is disappointed in Yaner, regretting she helped to save his life so long ago. Knowing she's not on his side (yet) and how he has no chance as long as Chen tries to orchestrate a speedy execution for him, Yaner is compelled to escape. Rushuang and some constables begin the pursuit, with Chen and his "demonseed" not far behind, hoping they can get to Yaner first. Now, the last hope for Yaner being exonerated is in his finding Officer Yan Bixian (Chan Shen), a witness who's being kept in protective custody at a nearby prison. Though the rapist blinded him with rocks and dirt in a desperate ploy to avoid capture (the night Rushuang arrived), he can still identify the culprit by his voice....

Writer and director Shen Chiang is reunited with his three stars from Heroes of Sung (1973), and he delivers a quirky but strong screenplay that suits them better than his haphazard one for the earlier film (save for the freaky "splitting" finale that would be equally at home in a "Venoms" movie). He and his co-director Hsiao Yung do a marvelous job with the direction; Yung's parti-cipation may be the reason this picture is better structually, compared to Chiang's solo effort on HoS. They put a lot stuff of into the running time of 86 minutes but not so much the result is like an overpacked can of sardines. Beyond the inevitable formula elements found in most Shaw wuxia films (trampolines, high leaps, and erratic wirework), LotL has so much going for it, I don't even mind the abrupt ending!

One of the more mindboggling performances I have ever seen from a Shaw actor is found here, courtesy of Lo Lieh. His work in King Boxer and Clan of the White Lotus doesn't compare to his interpetation of this strangest of heroes. Yaner continually pretends he is "shell-shocked", even a little mentally slow, as he prepares to deal with Chen. At the same time, the story hints he has been literally waiting years for Rushuang to come back to the point he (apparently) spent much of his spare time each day out on the street watching for her arrival in town. Not all this behavior feels like a charade; has he become obsessed over her riding to his rescue? Is she the "trigger" to his proceeding with revenge? Lieh's acting job here is such that you find yourself wondering if he has maintained his sanity all these years as a lowly helper for Chen; there's no doubt Chen and the people who work for him (also his son) have treated him like crap, so if Yaner has kept his wits intact all these years, then he's the equivalent of a John McCain among indentured servants. Fighting or acting, Lieh managed to impress me in LotL like he never has before.

Cheng Piang-shan is back to being a bad guy after being good in HoS. (To look at the cover for the IVL DVD, you're inclined to think he's fighting crime with Szu and Lieh.) He plays an associate of Chen who happens to have many wives, and when he loses his newest woman to the rapist, he wants Rushuang to replace her. He figures into the "detour" subplot where she has to deal with his sword-wielding "harem" as she tries to track down Yaner. I'm more used to him as a villain, so he didn't fail to disappoint me (trademark "cookie-eating grin" and all) as the secondary heavy.

Shih Szu does the "Lady of the Law" reasonably straight. If she's not playing a supercop in this, then she's a very persistant, savvy person who gives Chen or other troublemakers a reason to fear the wrath of her blades. Again, she breezes easily through portraying another wuxia heroine, which includes doing what stunts she did (which appears to be the majority of them). Then again, she always did a great job in her movies for Shaw, whether she did fighting or not.

In the end, LotL is your typical above-average Shaw production that looks and plays better than some HK "A" pictures of the '70s. The remastered film and audio on this DVD complement the original presentation; it's a movie that anyone who loves Lo Lieh or Shih Szu absolutely needs to add to their collection.

Given a choice, I'll take Lady of the Law over She's the Sheriff any day!

Recommended by Brother Fang!

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.

P.S. - Purchase it from PlayAsia by clicking on here.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Young People (1972), starring David Chiang, Ti Lung and Chen Kuan-tai. Directed by Chang Cheh.

WHOEVER is still holding out on purchasing a copy of Young People for non-economical reasons, let me reassure you that as widespread as the opinions are on the Shaw Brothers film, this is a special release from director Chang Cheh and script co-writer Ni Kuang worth getting. After its availability as a download (and an illegal one at that), what are the chances this will seriously be reissued again on DVD or VCD (even BD) after it goes out-of-print? Even though Cheh has a following around the globe, it's not a huge one, so it's probable his lesser-known releases shall fade away into the ages, while newer generations of fans and film scholars will dissect a selection of his movies (like One-Armed Swordsman, Vengeance!, The Duel or The Five Venoms) ad nauseam. If you feel my theory has some merit, then buy Young People now, 'cuz the window of opportunity may be closing.

Flavored with a lot of location filming at Chung Chi College (a Christian college founded in 1951, affiliated with the Chinese University of Hong Kong), YP is Cheh and Kuang's scattershot attempt to understand college-age young adults. (Our heroes are never seen in classes, by the way.) They are all over the map when comes to their presentation of what they think makes the minds of men and women in their earlier twenties tick. YP can only be safely classified as a Cheh movie; to categorize it as something else is pointless because it's fragments of genres and homages to other films, all of them tied together with a very basic plot.

To simplify the story, which has been re-counted many times in other reviews, it's the jocks (led by Ti Lung) versus the martial arts club (led by Chen Kuan-tai), with the performing arts club (led by neo-hippie David Chiang) somewhere in the middle. While the basketball players and purveyors of kung fu vie for the school's honor (not to mention Lung and Kuan-tai competing for the charms of fickle Irene Chan), the dancers and "band geeks" prepare for the school's anniversary celebration. How does Chiang unite these two hot-headed guys in friendship? Through peace, go carts and dance choreography!

So, what is there to enjoy in YP? Let's start with some intentional things:

1) Irene Chan! From her first scene onward, she makes you want to see the movie to the end. Anyone who has said there isn't any comedy in this wasn't paying attention to her work. The sequence where she barges into the mens' locker room before the big basketball game is a riot; her facial ex-pressions as the guys hurriedly cover up are priceless. She goes from Kuan-tai to Lung (and back to Kuan-tai) without much thought put into it beyond the fact they won trophies, which seems to be what draws her to them. When she loses both guys, you know she deserves this comeuppance, yet you can't help but feel sorry for her because for all her charms, she's still a ways off from being  a mature woman. Chan's combination of sexiness and fine acting in the role of Princess is one of the better peformances of a leading lady in any Cheh movie out there.

2) Bolo Yeung! One favorite Bruce Lee nemesis is (mostly) cast against type as one of the jocks. Not only can he play basketball, he is also adept at comedy; his scene where he and Wong Chung make fun of Kuan-tai's speech patterns (he speaks no more than three words at a time) is pure goofy fun. He's a sight to see with his crewcut and wearing those way-out '70s fashions. (Dig that visor!) He's not a constant presence in the picture, but when he's on, he easily catches your attention in an atypical part.

3) "The Blood Brothers!" Well, at the time, Lung, Chiang and Kuan-tai were yet to be in that '73 film, but if you happen to watch TBB after seeing YP, you'll never look at the former movie again in quite the same way. The guys are cast to type; Lung is the BMOC, Kuan-tai is the soft-spoken karate expert and Chiang is the drummer who feels all the world needs now is love, sweet love. As silly as the film is, the trio give their all and make the situations feel somewhat plausible. (If you think Lung is bad in this, please reacquaint yourself with his spot-on John Cassavettes imitation in Black Magic [1975], and stand corrected!)

What elements enhance YP by accident, if not design? They would be:

1) The music! For a flick that's designed to appeal to youthful moviegoers, the sound-track is as big as Woodstock: Snoopy's friend, not the festival. After the opening where Chiang does an "edgy" drum solo, we get three watered-down folk songs from Agnes Chan, the younger sister of Irene. She's cute and competently sings (in English) "The Circle Game", "You've Got a Friend" and a bad lyrical rip-off of "What the World Needs Now is Love". Except for an ambitious MTV-like interlude in "YGaF" (pictured), she's showcased with meaningless background dancing and a finale (set during the great anniversary assembly) where she seemingly enters and exits by way of crane or hot air balloon! Another performer (even a mere dude with a guitar) would've added variety to the production, but since Agnes got a HK hit with "TCG", somebody thought she was all the film needed (and could afford). To top it all off, the recordings she lip-syncs to are of a lower fidelity than the rest of the incidental music; to hear how her songs sound, you'd swear records were directly dubbed onto the film's audio track.

2) The "big events!" Besides running too long, the basketball game suffers from bad foley work; where are all the squeaking tennis shoes? (Also, Fan Mei Sheng gets a billing in the movie, yet he's barely seen in his sole appearance as a bench-warmer in the game! Fu Sheng gets more screen-time in all his little cameos combined.) The go cart competition is slightly better with some filming taking place during a real race. Chiang, Lung and Kuan-tai are actually driving in many parts, which is a big plus; only the race's conclusion will make you roll your eyes. The anniversary show is just bizarre, featuring dancing inspired by West Side Story (and a precursor to the dancing in the "Earth" portion of Heaven and Hell), more drumming by Chiang, and little Agnes; it's the HK version of a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney musical! The karate tournament comes off best as Kuan-tai dazzles all with his skills; Lau Kar Wing and Tong Gaai co-ordinated the fighting action, so all the other principals who had to bust a move here (or in other parts of the picture) were well trained to do so.

3) The "hip" script! Whoever did the lion's share of work on the story, Cheh or Kuang, doesn't matter; there's plenty of blame to go around about the using whatever it took to make YP appear on the "cutting edge" and "with it"... by 1972 standards. The clothes, the walkie talkies, a David Cassidy poster (in Agnes Chan's room), the music (kinda), product placement (7Up, Schweppes and Viceroy cigarettes), go carts and a dune buggy add to your viewing enjoyment by being so woefully out of date from the first day YP played in HK cinemas right into the 21st century. Anyone who has attended college in the past 30 years knows the only bit of college they got right in YP is when Chiang and his friends take a beer break!

Though the main characters in YP are stereotypes, all that unfolds in almost two hours' time doesn't stoop to the level of an Archie comic. (Wu Ma with a "crown" like Jughead's would be too much.) The plot (and the humor) seems to have been inspired (or stolen) from American International's "beach" movies (with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello), especially Beach Blanket Bingo. (Observe the comedic fight of the jocks against the martial artists, and substitute go carts for skydiving.) In fact, this is the only Cheh movie that could be rated PG (PG-13 if you think the violence harsh) by today's standards, so if you have to play a Chang Cheh film with your grandma present, this is the one. Those who prefer their "yang gang" fix with Shaw blood all over the widescreen will want to pass on this.

The IVL DVD is the usual slick, bare bones package. An original HK trailer would've provided some insight in how YP was sold to movie patrons back in '72, but all the promos on the disc are produced by Celestial. The new English subs are hilarious in two spots where the Mandarin translator throws in more recent slang; relish Ti Lung saying "homeboy" and "hommie" (SIC)!

After Susanna, YP is one of my favorite Shaw "guilty pleasures." If you don't try to compare it to Animal House or The Paper Chase, you'll have a good time wondering how Chang Cheh became the unofficial spokesman for the younger generation of Hong Kong...if not the world!

Recommended by Brother Fang!

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.

P.S. - Purchase it from PlayAsia by clicking here..

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Get Ready to Forget the "Match Game" Star! #2: Elaine Joyce

OKAY, for all those times she appeared on Match Game as is, I should have profiled  Elaine Joyce (her maiden name is Pinchot) first. I had to see more than a few MG reruns on Game Show Network (GSN) before I saw one with her, and when I did, the memories began to flow like water. Research filled in the many gaps.

This opening shot (from a Match Game '75) is synonymous with how I remember first seeing her back in the '70s; she's one of the few celebrities who looked good in this stylized... uh, "bowl cut" hairdo. (Bad example: Robbie Rist.)

Some of you might remember her more via her marriage to Bobby Van (born Robert Jack Stein); they often did joint appearances on some shows, such as Tattletales and an episode of CHiPs. Both are best known as performers in musicals, though they had done their own fair share of movies and TV shows. When they got married in 1968, he was 39, and she was 22. At the time of the MG'75 taping, Bobby was hosting the short-lived game show Showoffs, which Elaine was promoting with her note. He'd go on to host two more, but his debut came under unfortunate circumstances.

The original choice for emcee was Larry Blyden, previously the last host of What's My Line? (the syndicated version). He taped the pilot for ABC (a formality as the Mark Goodson and Bill Todman production was a shoo-in) in late May of '75. Shortly after, he would die in a car accident while on vacation in Morocco, about three weeks before the production resumed. Rather than delay the program's premiere (for a period of mourning), they selected Bobby as a last moment replacement. A pall was cast over the set during Showoffs' run; Bobby didn't altogether click with viewers, too, and the show only ran six months after its June 30th bow.

The union of Elaine and Bobby would sadly end when he died of cancer on July 31, 1980. In 1981, while she worked on the sitcom Mr. Merlin, she got a fan letter from one J. D. Salinger (yes, the author of Catcher in the Rye); after a period of correspondence, a secret relationship followed. While this odd pairing went on, Elaine married John Levoff, a TV producer, with whom she had a son, Michael. (She had a daughter, Taylor, with Bobby.) Beyond a May '82 newspaper report that Salinger was spotted in Jacksonville, FL, to see a play Elaine was in, their affair lasted quietly through the latter '80s, and her second marriage crumbled in due course.

Into the '90s, Elaine was keeping busy with parts in shows as diverse as Beverly Hills, 90210, Murder, She Wrote and Days of Our Lives. In 1999, she got married to her third husband, Neil Simon (The Odd Couple and... [shudder] ...The Odd Couple II movie), and they are together to the present day. They've even collaborated together, as illustrated by this poster of a show she did in 2007. Considering her connections to Salinger and Simon, the evidence strongly suggests Elaine is anything but the intellectual lightweight she sometimes portrayed in some of her many film and TV roles. (This is not implying Bobby Van was an idiot, too; his only bad judgement call seems to have been participating in the awful musical remake of Lost Horizon in 1973!)

From all the MG episodes I've watched, she is a lot of fun to see in action; I must also add there are the moments she can be  grating, but such is a fate that fell upon all those who graced the CBS TV studio where MG was recorded in mini-marathon sessions. (Five shows on Saturday, five shows on Sunday, and then a two-week break before it started all over again.) She was a semi-regular, compared to those like Richard Dawson or host Gene Rayburn, but she was on so many times, she's as readily remembered by fans as the "veterans" of the show are. The people who saw Elaine on MG really liked her; otherwise, the producers would've stopped asking her to return at some point.

Did the other celebrity panelists feel the same toward her? At least, there was one known contrarian. Before her death in 2007 (almost four months to the day after Charles Nelson Reilly passed on), Brett Somers sat down for an interview (included on the 2006 The Best of Match Game DVD set, available from Mill Creek) where she said of Elaine (and I quote):

"I never shared [my dressing room] with Elaine Joyce. I was never crazy about her."

"I used to sit in the 'dummy' seat... Elaine Joyce sat there a lot."

The reruns demonstrate why Brett still harbored the feelings she did long after the show was over. Elaine (about 29 at the time of the MG'75 era) is very outgoing and friendly, notably so with the men in front of the camera and behind. In the week's worth of installments I recently saw, director Marc Breslow heavily favors Elaine with more shots of her on-camera than what's usual with the celebrity regulars and semi-regulars. That this is very noticeable in the last few shows might be due to everybody having returned from the notorious dinner breaks that occured during a pause in taping (where more than a few were said to have often returned in a tipsy state, though this has yet to be verified).

Here, she is playfully flirting with Gene more than usual... not that Gene's complaining. (Neither would Brother Fang.) Actually, Elaine's personality is intoxicating without the prompting of alcohol; at her most affable, it's easy to figure out why Bobby Van (or anyone else) fell head over heels for her.

How she appears on these programs is, of course, only one facet of her personae. She is certainly a strong woman who has had to cope with (among other things) the death of her first husband and a career of ups and downs before finding love the third time around; hopefully, it's for keeps.
What more can I say about this remarkable lady? I think I've renewed my membership in her fan club! True, she's no Meryl Streep, but then, I don't expect her to be.

In closing, how do you respond to Brett's remarks, Elaine?

Fair enough....

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin ______.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Thunderbolt Fist (1972), starring Shih Szu, Chuan Yuan and Nan Kung-hsun. Directed by Chang Yi-hu.

(All images courtesy Celestial Pictures.)
OFFBEAT casting, a plot with a measure of actual details and one of the more unusual endings found in any martial arts movie lifts The Thunderbolt Fist a notch above the "usual" Shaw Brothers product. Make no mistake, this is as derivative as these flicks can get, but most of the good films in any given genre are not innovators. (This picture owes its existence mainly to earlier Shaws like One-Armed Swordsman, The Chinese Boxer and King Boxer.)

Considering the initial reason I got this DVD was only because one of the background players was Fu Sheng (briefly visible in two scenes), I give credit to the star turn of Shih Szu for making me come back for repeated visits. Though her part is in a supporting capacity, she has top billing; it's her picture to steal, and she does it well.

Brother Fang reminds you Shih Szu is HOT!

A sizeable band of Japanese ronin invade a town in northeastern China, terrorizing the citizens into submission and siezing control over the local ginseng trade; people can sell it only to the Japanese. When a group of farmers led by Gin Chi (Gam Kei Chu) resist this, they rough it up with some of the ronin, killing one. With the elders of the town (including the mayor) afraid to take any action against the Japanese, Gin and his friends make their escape to the mountains, vowing to take care of the ronin themselves after a period of extensive training.

The ronin are so itching to show their superiority to the Chinese, they've even built a fighting ring in the town upon which they intend to make spectacles of the "sick men of Asia". Before leaving, Gin Chi suggests if Ping Bai (Feng Mien) of the Jinxian School of martial arts defeats the ronin leader, Gu Lan (Chan Feng Chen), in the ring, they may get rid of the Japanese for good. Gu himself delivers this challenge to Ping, and they eventually have at it; despite some injury to himself, Ping defeats Gu, killing him.

Chan Feng Chen and Feng Mien.

The ronin go after Ping, killing him in retalation; Ping's friend, Old Wang (Wong Ching Ho), flees with Ping's son, Tie Wa, to the mountains where Gin Chi is hiding out. In their haste, they leave behind Ping's manual on the "Thunderbolt Fist" technique in the care of Tie's childhood sweetheart, Feng Niou.

Shih Szu and Chuan Yuan.

Ten years later, the kung fu of the older Tie Wa (Chuan Yuan) is pretty good, thanks to his being trained by Gin and his daughter, Die Er (Shih Szu), but it's now time for Tie to retrieve the manual, the book that holds the key to getting the ronin out of their lives. He departs for town to find Feng Niou (Wong Chin Feng) and guage how tough the ronin forces are.

Wong Chin Feng and Chuan Yuan.

Tie finds out Feng has married his old friend Da Xiong (Tung Lin), who rescued her from the clutches of Gu Gang (Nan Kung-hsun), the son of Gu Lan who now leads the ronin. (By catching a glimpse of him in action, Tie knows Gu's martial arts skills are even better than that of his father's.) Gu Gang, having dealt with Tie and Da when they were all younger, knows these two working together will bring him unwanted hassles; he has innuendo spread around town that Tie has been fooling around with Feng. Soon enough, Da tries to mix it up with Tie over the misunderstanding, but Feng intervenes, telling them it's a ploy by the Japanese to turn them against each other. A battered Tie wisely retreats, taking the manual with him.

Having barely started to learn the Thunderbolt Fist, Tie impulsively sets off to town again to deal with Gu, staying under wraps at the closed-up Jinxian school. Against Tie's wishes, Die Er sneaks off after him, arriving to see firsthand how the townspeople are getting shaken down by the ronin, including having to pay protection money. Figuring out where Gu resides, she sneaks in at night, steals a large quantity of currency from his vault, and redistributes it to the people who need it more.

Upon discovery of the theft, the ronin think Tie is the one responsible for it, and Gu sends off a challenge to Tie to meet him at the ring for a duel. Da Xioung intercepts the note, and having realized his misjudgement in accusing Tie of adultery, goes to fight Gu in his place in hopes of making up for his mistake. Gu fatally wounds Da, and he's left to slowly die.

Wong Chin Feng and Nan Kung-hsun.

Once Gu discovers where Tie's been hiding in town, he goes off with some men after him. Tie has yet to be a match for Gu, and he gets captured, as is Feng not long after her husband passes on. Tie is tortured by the ronin, the worst of it being a disabling of his right arm while a horrified Feng watches on. Only her agreement to submit herself to Gu's sexual appetite saves Tie from death, and he gets released. After Tie is gone into the night, Feng commits suicide before Gu can lay a hand on her.

As Tie recovers back at the mountain hideaway, he hears of Feng's ultimate sacrifice, reinforcing his determination to resume learning from the manual, despite his recent handicap. With one good arm and two legs, it's not long before he masters the technique, and he and all the other Chinese patriots finally ride into town, ready to take on the Japanese. Many ronin get slaughtered in a long, bloody struggle, and Tie manages well against Gu, much to Gu's amazement. He brings the battle to an abrupt stop, saying he and Tie should finish the fight the next day in the fighting ring; Tie agrees.

Gu uses one last dirty ploy to better his odds; he has a man try to slash one of Tie's legs hours before the bout. Even that's not enough to deter Tie, and come the morning, he goes to face off with Gu, hoping to bring an end to the ronin's hold over the town by bringing down their leader in the same ring where his father stopped Gu's father years ago....

After that...NO "SPOILERS"!

A cut scene from The Thunderbolt Fist.
(Nan King-hsun and Gan Kei Chu.)

As the story goes, scriptwriter Li Cho Chien throws in some specifics not always found in "revenge" pictures. Tie Wa, Feng Niou, Da Xiong and Gu Gang knew each other in childhood, as illustrated by the opening scenes and a flashback; their interactions with each other have a payoff (most of them not nice), which helps us to empathize with the good guys. (This extends to Tie Wa's initial training with Die Er, though the fact the girl playing a younger version of Shih Szu doesn't have the closest resemblance to her is a slight fault.) The rest of the "Chinese versus Japanese" storyline goes into Fist of Fury territory, but along with an air of Chinese patriotism, the final confrontation with the ronin is more believable as the hopes of all the Chinese doesn't rest on one person's shoulders.

This was South Korean director Chang Yi-hu's first film for Shaw; circumstantial evidence suggests he may have had some sort of assistance from Jeong Chang Hwa, director of King Boxer. Yi-hu could've been facing a language barrier (surrounded by people who spoke only Mandarin) during the making of TTF, so a fellow South Korean (who dealt with same when he started at Shaw) was brought in to help out! This could explain why more than a few personnel from both sides of the camera in KB are also found in TTF. Compare the credits to both movies at Hong Kong Cinemagic, then watch them both back to back (look at KB first), and you may see what Brother Fang does.

Chuan Yuan, best known for his role as the main heavy in the Chang Cheh movie The Duel, is effectively cast against type as Tie Wa. Some think he looks a lot older than Shih Szu; his facial hair and some of the lighting seems to emphasize this, but the chemistry he and Shih Szu have between one another more than compensates for any inconsistency. He does well in fighting, using two arms or one; he even gets a few unexpected, funny moments in a action scene (in fact, the light tone pops up in other fights) I never anticipated. He's an underrated actor who should've done more movies.

Nan Kung-hsun (who lost his eyeballs in KB) simply oozes nastiness as Gu Gang; he's as ruthless in his fighting as he is in under-handed tactics! As playing it in a one-dimensional sense goes, he's so deserving of having any of his blood spilt!

I do not exaggerate when I say Shih Szu enhances every moment she's on the screen. (No bias here, really; it's the first action role of hers I saw which sold me on this talented woman.) Her part is more lighter in nature than her turn in The Young Avenger, and she handles the martial arts (choreographed by Leung Siu Chung) with the same ease she brings to using swords. By comparison, she's no Angela Mao, but her performance is cute, dramatic and energetic when it needs to be. This is a necessary purchase for all Shih Szu fans, no arguments about it!

The remainder of the cast is just as good, with Fang Mien, Tung Lin and Gan Kei Chu (with a silly wig that makes him look like Rob Reiner as Mike Stivic, the "Meathead") notable standouts. In addition to Fu Sheng, look for cameos by Sammo Hung, Ricky Hui and Bruce Lee's pal Unicorn Chan.

This movie is available on DVD in two versions. The IVL disc is notable for having only the original Mandarin soundtrack as an audio option, plus within the stills gallery is a photo (see above) of a sequence left out of the final edit. (It must take place prior to the last meeting of Tie Wa and Gu Gang, based on what Nan Kung-hsun is wearing.) The anamorphic picture on the Image disc is not as sharp as it is on the IVL, but the US release does have the English dub, which is delirious fun. Whatever version you prefer to get, you will be entertained!

Nothing overly deep here, just pure, non-PC fun.

And that ENDING!

Recommended by Brother Fang!

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.

P.S. - Purchase it from Play-Asia by clicking on here.

Today would've been his 56th birthday....

Alexander Fu Sheng (1954-1983)
(Thanks for the image, Marla.) 

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Get Ready to Forget the "Match Game" Star! #1: Trish Stewart

FOR you who re-member watching those celebrity-loaded TV game shows of the '70s-'80s, how the producers of these programs de-fined "celebrity" ran contrary to your definition. These shows could only get people of the "B" list, "also-ran", "washed up", "up and coming" or "flash in the pan" variety.

Add to that list the category of actors most alien to little kids: somebody from a soap opera! They were what only your mother watched (or taped to watch later when VCRs became common-place); they were what sent a kid outside to play until the cartoons came on later in the day, if school wasn't an issue.

Imagine what my response was when I decided to try out my DVR by recording some episodes of the kitsch classic Match Game '75, and I saw... her. My first reaction was, "Wow! Something even better than Charles Nelson Reilly's wisecracks!" This lady's lovely by today's standards; these pictures don't lie.

She is Trish Stewart, and at the time, she was one of the original cast members of the CBS soap The Young and the Restless (1973-present). I recall my mother watching this when it premiered (or not long after) due to the main title "Nadia's Theme", which later became a hit in '76 (#8 on Billboard).

I remember first hearing the music used as an underscore cue in Stanley Kramer's '71 movie Bless the Beasts and Children, which re-ran on TV quite a few times prior to the debut of TYatR. (The Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin, Jr. com-position was initially called "Cotton's Theme".)

This would later be retitled "Nadia's Theme" when ABC (the network airing the '76 summer Olympics in Montreal) lent the music to Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci for use in competition. She never used it for a routine, but she still won gold medals. The instrumental went on to win a Grammy in '77.

Back to Trish; if you click on her IMDb link, you'll see the other TV programs she appeared on during her time in the spotlight. I don't remember seeing her in some of these shows, but in light of her Match Game appearance (one of many she did), I sure wouldn't mind seeing more of her, she left such an impression.

Easily, she's the most natural and least pretentious of the six panelists on in the week's run of shows (five) I saw, more pleasant than regulars Brett Somers, Richard Dawson, Gary Burghoff or host Gene Rayburn, who tended to get on my nerves if I watched MG too much. (CNR was not on that week.)

She reminded me of the younger Candice Bergen who had appeared on the first season of Saturday Night Live ('75) by how she dressed sharply (by '70s standards), her shoulder-length hair (though Bergen's a brunette) and how the men on the show noticably treated her like a lady.

As I take the time to think of popular stars who started on soap operas and went on to bigger and better things, I then think about the vivacious woman I saw on MG and wonder what was wrong with her that she couldn't move beyond TYatR (which she left in '84). Was it because of her being on MG? Of course not.

There's a difference between good actors and big stars. Good actors are "a dime a dozen", and big stars are "one in a million". Sometimes, it's hard to believe some performer who appears to come off like a million bucks is actually worth ten cents to the entertainment industry. In that sense, Trish is, herself, "one in a million" amongst dozens of people. In the final analysis, as long as reruns of her shows play on TV (or DVD), she won't be truly be forgotten...compared to an Avery Schreiber.

I think I'll hold on to these DVR recordings for a while.

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.